A small, private, gathering


______It was a small, private, gathering that spring in 1955. They had just started drinking and were probably about to re-fight the old battles from old wars.
______"I though I'd find you all here!" The speaker was a medium height man wearing civilian khaki as if they were a uniform.
______"Find who here?" The man replying was the senior gunny sergeant of their detachment; he was tall, gaunt and would fight a beer gut the rest of his life. His endurance was legendary.
______"All you DAMNED FAGGOTS! I get you kicked out of this man's army if it the last thing I do!"
______"There are no faggots here. You will leave now!"
______"My name is MISTER Johnson. Don't give ME that shit, soldier GIRL! I can prove you're all faggots and I will!"
______"We are all veterans and war heros. Most of us fought in WWII and some..."
______"Bullshit, you never left the states."
______"...some of us fought in Korea (he pronounced it as Core-ree-ah). We are war heros who deserve your respect!"
______"You're all sick and deserve to rot in jails and you will for the degrading things you've done!"
______The man-in-khakis left abruptly; perhaps he realized that his audience wasn't spineless shoe clerks and college students.
______The gunny had the sick feeling he always had before going facing battle. He had been drafted into the Corps back in WWII and had fought with Merrill's Raiders. He had helped "clean up the Japs" from the highlands of the Philippine Islands. He had been an American liaison team member to the British SAS during their Malaysian crisis. He had fought with the Navy UDT in China during the Korean "Police Action". (He had learned that the UDT Frogmen were better warriors than most of the Corp).
______All of the men in the room with him had fought with him in one or more of these conflicts. Now, he faced any enemy that the NCO Academy, combat and joint service had not prepared him for. He faced a zealot using new military regulations against him!
______"What the hell are we going to do?"
______That scared man had been a grunt for 18 years.
______"Yeah! Kill the son-of-a-bitch!"
______"But can we git away with it?"
______"Hey! Hey! We can't kill him!" The senior gunny paused. "REMEMBER, we swore to "uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and..."
______"Gunny! We're facing disgrace, jail time, female hormones to 'cure' us and the loss of our retirements! We just can't sit here and let that civilian asshole get away with this!"
______The gunny was hard pressed to answer that remark. It had been spoken by a man who had saved the gunny`s life from a sniper when the gunny had screwed up big time; none of the room's occupants cared that he was black.
______"Look, men, you know I don't like killing unless it is necessary! I think we can solve this be destroying his evidence. That asshole scumbag is staying in the BOQ (bachelor officer quarters), right?" There were a couple of confirming nods.
______"Anybody know what he's up here for?"
______The MP boss, an Army top sergeant, had walked in unnoticed by MISTER Johnson.
______"His name is Steve Johnson and he brought a letter of introduction from the Mountain Home chief of police. Seems he's looking for a 'nest of gamblers' up here."
______"Top, he plans on busting the lot of us for being 'faggots'. We've got to find some way to stop him!"
______"I can check out his story, see if he's legitimate, talk with some of the boys downtown." The top cop was straight and didn't care who his friends were "close" friends with. The memories of shared terror and combat in joint operations with some of these men was still quite fresh.
______"Anybody see where this scumbag went when he left?"
______The top cop was working the phone for a minute.
______"He left through the main gate less than five minutes ago, gunny."
______"Well, lets go search his BOQ room and remove any evidence. Does anybody have anything to plant on MISTER Johnson?"
______"How about some marked cards? He is up here looking for 'crooked gamblers' right?"
______"Too obvious and backs up his story. He can say 'he confiscated those cards'."
______"We can shake Johnson's BOQ room down and I can leave a couple of partially full bottles of booze there. When the Base commander does his weekly room inspections tomorrow, I'll tell him that Johnson bought full bottles the day before. He was at the Class 7 store today."
______"Which accomplishes what, top," the gunny inquired?
______"Establishes that the man is a lush."
______"Well, he had to come here FROM somewhere. He's getting money from SOMEONE. Lets find out who! Top, can you work some of your connections?"
______"I worked on a base larceny case with one of J. Edgar's boys. He just spent a tour working for the man himself and came out here to get some field experience before going back to headquarters. We can do business, he and I."
______"Good! If there isn't dirt on this dirtbag, maybe we can provide him with some!"
______"Now! The most important thing! How long has MISTER Johnson been on base?"
______A phone call to the billeting office gave an answer of three days.
______"Three days and nobody took any notice of him?"
______This was hard to believe since the base was near the top of a small mountain near Mountain Home Idaho. The nearest town was twenty miles away and the base was reached only by cattle trails and one terrifying two lane country road. The base itself was small and there only for training elite infantry units and to provide radar coverage of the valleys below. It was a sleeper of a base.
______"What have you guys been doing lately? Drink a lot at the club? Get a little too chummy drinking or walking home?"
______After some questioning, the top cop and the gunny had established a depressing picture. There were no short service men at the base. All of the personnel were either close friends and wouldn't talk; so a part of the military culture and apart from the civilian world that they wouldn't talk; so naive that they didn't notice anything and couldn't talk. But, to a hunter, the signs of the prey were all too damnably evident.
______What made matters worst was of the twenty five men labeled "faggots", only six were gay or bisexual; the rest were friends who would be smeared and see their live's and their families destroyed.
______"We've all had anti-guerrilla training and some of us have we've lived 'underground' in the civilian world. This base seems safe but it really isn't. We've ALL got to start being careful!"
______"Too damn late for that, ain't it Larry?" This marine was a Staff Sergeant who would have never dared calling the gunny by first name when on duty.
______"Not at all, Marine, not at all. We WILL come out of this unhurt!"
______Privately, the gunny wasn't at all sure of that!
______When the gunny went back to his room at the Senior NCO BEQ (Bachelor Enlisted Quarters), he poured himself a drink and let the feelings of being trapped wash over him. He looked at a small bag in one of his locker and thought that maybe this was one of the "bag times" the shrink had talked about. He took another sip of his vodka and water and pulled the bag out of the locker.
______After the Korean war, the gunny had experienced stress off and on and gone to a civilian doctor for help (it would have been the kiss of death to visit a Navy doctor). The doc had diagnosed him as having battle fatigue and had given him some "common" drugs and some "experimental" drugs. Then, the doc had listened and had truly honored patient/doctor confidentiality; he didn't report the gunny's "battle fatigue" (which would be called "post traumatic shock" years later) or his sexual preferences to the Naval department.
______The bag contained a collection of pills, bottles, sugar cubes and a book on meditation. The gunny almost took one of the "calming drugs" but had this fear of mixing booze and something from a bottle. He put the bag back in his locker and brooded on his drink and another one as well.
______The following morning, a couple of "his boys" visited the gunny at his office. They brought a set of handwritten notes about who was seen with whom, surveillance notes about who was "chummy" with whom (one of the less sophisticated straight men had the proverbial 'wife, mistress and girlfriend' to their surprise) and even some notes on gamblers. They had left a couple of bottles in MISTER Johnson's room (the gunny had contributed a vodka bottle).
______At 0900, the gunny left for his morning meeting with the "Old Man"; the base commander. The gunny was the NCO-in-Charge of a US Marine Corp training unit that trained Air Force personnel in Escape and Evasion. He worked directly for the base commander.
______The base commander had been an Air Force pilot in the Korean Police Action until he had been shot down twice while providing close air support. The gunny had personally lead rescue teams into enemy territory to save the Colonel's ass; the Colonel had not forgotten this.
______They got through the routine business then the Colonel decided to do something about the gunny's evident bad mood. The Colonel got up from his chair and moved over to an easy chair. Knowing his part of this ritual, the gunny moved over to sit on the couch by the Colonel's chair.
______"All right, Larry, tell me what's bothering you."
______"Its that new man, Johnson, he's been acting strange."
______"Johnson came here with a letter from the Mountain Home Police Chief saying some nonsense about a 'ring of gamblers' so such crap." He paused. "It is crap?" The gunny nodded a yes.
______"Can you evict him from this base?"
______"You know I can't! The memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the local police states that he can operate here. He does have to coordinate with the MP boss and my XIII; beyond that we can't run him out.
______"Well, it is more than that. We think that he is going to try pinning some evidence on some of my grunts. I don't know why but we think he is out to hurt some of us senior NCOs." The colonel had been leaning down to serve himself coffee and didn't notice the facial tick that lies produced on the gunny.
______"Well, I love you guys and I am going to continue looking out for you! Count on it!" This was not a sexual statement.
______"I think he's been seeing things..."
______"Damn right I have!" Johnson had obviously been listening from just outside the Colonel's office.
______"...that just aren't real or creditable and he is a menace..."
______The gunny's voice finally ran down when he realized that MISTER Johnson was in the room.
______"I've seen some strange things lately and you're going to hear about them!"
______The colonel looked puzzled.
______"I've got my eye on you, soldier girl".
______Johnson left. The colonel looked puzzled.
______"That is one of the things I was going to mention, sir, Johnson didn't seem to be able to tell men from women last night. He was also seeing things that he mumbled about."
______"Well, any man who thinks you look like a woman is just too screwed up to be worth listening to. I'll have the police chief check him out."
______Both men knew that the "police chief" was the MP Top Sergeant.
______After the gunny left the Colonel's office, MISTER Johnson was waiting for him.
______"You think you're so damn smart, don't you?"
______"Why don't you leave?"
______"You think that CRAP about 'seeing things' will matter? You know, I didn't realize just how high up this thing went. It didn't occur to me that Colonel would be one of you fake men."
______"The Colonel is one of the finest men I know..."
______"...he said he LOVED you..."
______"...and I won't listen to this nonsense."
______"...you pervert. Have you no shame?"
______"You would ruin our lives and for what?"
______"You get you perverts out of the service! To make the military pure again! You're a worst threat than those Godless Russian commies."
______"Bullshit! We're combat veterans who have protected our country! Did you serve in Korea? Were you old enough for WW two?"
______"I was too young for the second world war and why I didn't serve in the Korean Conflict is none of your God Damned Business."
______"Didn't have the balls to go?"
______"You think you've stopped me by cleaning out my room? I have more papers in town. See you at the court marshal! Maybe you and your boyfriend will be tried together!"
______"What boyfriend?"
______"Why the one that 'loves you'. I thought the officers were supposed to leave you enlisted alone."
______"Get out of here!"
______The gunny thought of killing that human cockroach right then and there. He also thought of his dislike of killing; he had killed in combat to protect his comrades and truly regretted hurting others. Why he stayed a Marine was something he refused to let himself think about.
______He went back to his room and sat on his bed staring at the bag in the locker. He knew that there were things in it which would take the pain away. There were things in there that would change his very emotions in ways he still found confusing. But he couldn't.
______Several of his friends walked in (he couldn't let himself think of any of them as lovers).
______"What progress?" The staff sergeant spoke first.
______"The dirtbag says he has documents in town. Says he'll try to take the colonel down as well."
______"What good are the documents? Can't we destroy them?"
______"I'm going to ask the Top Cop to see what he can do. I don't have a lot of hope."
______"Look, Larry, it the `shit hits the fan', we can say that we were all drafted (they had been) and no one asked us who we liked sleeping with. Besides, we're all decorated war heros. They'll let us retire and those who are close to retiring will spend the rest of their time at shit duty stations. We'll survive!"
______"They're going to go after the colonel."
______"His wife can save him."
______"They'll claim she lied."
______The gunny got on the phone to the Top Cop who said he would ask his city cop buddies about Johnson's city address. Although few knew it, the city cops were in the habit of collecting carbon copies of apartment rental and hotel rental forms. This minor invasion of privacy had quietly worked for them before.
______"How about putting some bottles, some AA literature and the like around his place?"
______"Not to worry. I'll see if I can coach some of his neighbors into saying he's a mean drunk. I'll get back to you later."
______"Look, we have friends. We just have to testify that there ain't anything going on and its his word against ours. We'll get out of this no problem-oh."
______"It ain't going to be that easy, boss."
______One of the sergeants brought in a corporal; a young man who had acted just a little too gay till he had been told to clean up his act.
______"Johnson got to him."
______"What the hell!" NOW the gunny was pissed off!
______"He made he tell what we done. He made me sign papers saying we done some real bad stuff. He wouldn't let me see what it was we done. It just was he made he sign papers. He said he'd tell my folks and that would kill them and I couldn't go to college and I couldn't live a normal life and I..."
______The gunny clamped a hand on the young man's mouth to shut off the flow of hysterical verbal diarrhea.
______"What can you remember?"
______"It, ah, not much, ah, DAMN, I'm sorry, boss."
______"Don't worry about it, son, just calm down and talk to Staff Sergeant Washington."
______The gunny thought about his oath once again: "protect and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic. Obey the orders of the officers placed over me". He didn't get the exact wording right but he had the concepts down cold.
______He looked at the bag in his locker and thought that maybe this was time for some of the civilian doctors "presents". Then, he realized that this was combat and he was getting the adrenalin rush. He had his men to protect!
______Some twenty minutes later, the Top Cop called him.
______"We found the apartment he rented. It's a 'by the week' place at 103 North 2nd in Mountain Home. We're going to slip in later."
______"Don't you need a warrant?"
______The top cop just chuckled at that idea.
______"Not when the owner is running a still in his basement. He'll let us in real quick."
______"Do you think you can plant something on this dirtball? Something that'll really discredit him?"
______"You mean beyond the booze and AA crap?"
______"Yeah. Something WAY beyond!"
______"I thing I can find something in the police property rooms to help out there. I'll go looking and say I'm looking for a stolen military pistol?"
______"Tell them that. I want this guy burned hard. He screwed over one of the lad's and got him to sign some crap. I want him burned!"
______"Well, you get that paper from the creep! I'll do the rest.. My buddy from the FBI might be able to clue me in too."
______The gunny shoed his friends from his room and looked at the little bag in the locker. He moved some of the contents to a pocket of his utility jacket and left as well. He still had his duty to attend to! He was a PROFESSIONAL and BY-GOD he was continue to ACT LIKE ONE!
______Late that afternoon, the same group was sitting around trying to THINK of something optimistic to say and trying to think of a way out of their nightmare. Someone found relief in the mechanical action of making coffee. MISTER Johnson walked in.
______"Well, I have you faggots by the balls now. Why don't you just sign confessions like your plaything did?" He passed out forms.
______"Just fill in your names, sign them and I'll witness them."
______The men started reading the forms.
______"Don't read them, just sign them, damn you," MISTER Johnson sputtered.
______"Child molester...raped boys...hate women and rape them...use drugs...work for the Russian communists...want to overthrow the government...been spying for years...never went to combat and got clerks to fade our records."
______The men were shocked by the pure bullshit content of the "confessions" they were handed to sign.
______"I suppose you got the kid to sign these?" The gunny's voice was too calm.
______"Sure, it was EASY to bully him into signing!"
______"Enough is enough."
______MISTER Johnson was surprised by the resolve in the gunny's voice.
______"I want every damned copy of this 'confession' collected. I want this scumbag's briefcase emptied out now. I want his car searched. I want his room searched. I want it DONE NOW!"
______Johnson resisted but the resistance was futile. Soon all copies of the forms, including the one the kid had signed, were burning merrily in the metal garbage can. The ashes would later be sifted and flushed down a toilet
______"If you think that this has done a damned bit of good then you are bigger FOOLS then you look! I can testify against you. I can get the police to REALLY shake you turds down. Hell, who do you think sent me out here?"
______"Who did send you out here," the gunny had the same soft, cold, calm to his voice.
______"Some very important people."
______"Well, we've gotten ALL your papers so that ends you as a threat. We'll just be very discrete and you'll go away."
______"The hell I will!"
______That's the hell of it, the gunny thought. My squeamishness against his threat. You do have to protect them that protects the constitution from "foreign and domestic enemies".
______The gunny felt around in his pocket and palmed one of the wrapped sugar cubes his civilian doctor had provided. Then, he wrote a note on a scrap of paper. Johnson was involved in watching some of the gunny`s friends sweat and missed these actions; he would pay for this inattention.
______"Well, we might as well have some coffee. No, don't get up, I'll do this myself. Take your seats, gentlemen!"
______"I'm the only gentleman in here," Johnson sneered.
______He didn't know why that brought a smile to the gunny's face.
______The gunny took a tray out from the coffee mess's cabinet, placed mugs on it and carefully put the sugar cube in one particular mug. Then, keeping track of which mugs were which, he filled them with coffee and hand delivered them to each man. He was careful that MISTER Johnson got the sugared coffee. The note went to a man who palmed it smoothly. (The gunny would later throw the spoon he stirred Johnson's coffee with and the mug in the base garbage landfill).
______Johnson took a sip of coffee, pouted and acted ready to put the mug down. That just wouldn't do!
______"What! Not man enough to drink TEPID coffee with us 'soldier girls'?"
______Taking their cue from the gunny, the "soldier girls" gulped their hot, hot coffee. MISTER Johnson did so also. The gunny carefully noted the time.
______"So tell me why you want to hurt us, Johnson. We've all fought to defend this country!"
______"If you don't know, I don't know why I should tell you! You tell me!"
______"The standoff continued for about twenty minutes when the gunny nodded at the man holding the note; that man slipped out of the room.
______The phone rang; the gunny answered it.
______"Yes, speaking...what?...where...yes, I have it memorized...yes, I'll have it checked out! Thanks! Good bye!"
______"So, Johnson, what do you know about an apartment at 103 North 2nd Street in Mountain Home?"
______"What!"
______"We have a mutual friend there so I think I'll go visit him."
______MISTER Steve Johnson left the room at a run. They heard his car fire up. The gunny phoned the guard shack.
______"That man Johnson is leaving. Just wave him through."
______That was sound advise as Johnson went through the gate in 3rd gear and was soon in 4th gear.
______The gunny got on the phone to Johnson's apartment where the Top Cop was.
______"Top, this is the gunny. Johnson will be coming the mountain very soon. He left rather agitated and might be driving a bi t quickly."
______"I found some fairly damaging material here. My buddy from the police force hung around outside till I'd had time to toss the place." There was a pause and a fake sigh. "It seems like our 'MISTER Johnson' was a hophead. I found a few reefers and my cop friend confirmed helping me find them."
______"This won't cause you problems?"
______"Nope! I got the reefers from a section of the police custody room set aside for evidence that will be found on 'deserving persons'." That scared the gunny who decided he would be real nice to the top cop.
______"Don't worry, I'd only use it on real assholes. People like our 'friend' Johnson."
______"Ah, that's good to know."
______"You're never going to be a 'Johnson' to me."
______"Good! Thanks! Oh, by the way, Johnson left here several minutes ago and was driving rather fast. He might run into trouble."
______"In that case, I'll take a drive up to the base. It'll take me another half hour to make it to the base of the access road. I'll be at the bottom before him."
______The gunny hung up, smiled grimly at his people and stretched.
______"Relax grunts, have some coffee or something stronger. The top cop and I have arranged to 'take care of' Johnson."
______The men didn't seem too happy but tried to act relaxed. About an hour later, the top cop came charging into their club.
______"What did you do to him?" The words were an excited shout.
______"Gave him coffee and told him we were going to shake his pad down."
______"Well, you got him really upset. He was bouncing off the cliff sides before he went over the edge. The car went over a 300 foot cliff, bounced hard on some rocks and ended upside down in the river. If he survived the fall and didn't drown, there ain't no way he could survive the rapids. The water is MOVING in that area!"
______The gunny was smiling.
______"How did you know this would happen?"
______"I put one of my medicines in his coffee. I don't know just what it's supposed to do so I thought he could try it out. I gave him the full dose."
______This was a lie but one necessary for everyone's peace of mind!
______"Here's the paperwork I took from his apartment."
______The material taken from the late and unlamented MISTER Johnson's apartment would not only have destroyed their careers, put them into jail but would have gotten them into "medical treatment". That was the worst fate. Being forced to take huge amounts of female hormones would have grown them breasts, caused them cancer and ruined their lives! The irony of this is that they would have stayed functionally male and gay ones would still be gay; the bisexual ones still bisexual and the straight ones still straight. The more educated of them knew how the brilliant mathematician and war hero, Dr. Allen Turning, had been rewarded for his service to "Crown and County" with such drug treatments. He had committed suicide.
______All of this material was carefully burnt, the ashes stirred and then flushed down the toilet.
______The next day, the gunny convinced the base Colonel that the Marine Corps needed to reactivate the Scout Sniper Companies. The Colonel called his general who called an admiral who called the Commandant of the Corps who called a Regimental Commander who called the gunny and the gunny's "boys" were on their way to be Scout Snipers (again). Their Army and Air Force friends went on with their careers elsewhere and were definitely more covert in their activities!
______The top cop's FBI buddy input some truly damning material into his confidential reports files and that put an end to the late and unlamented MISTER Johnson's credit ability.
______Over the years, these men perfected the Scout Sniper techniques; one of their trainees was a man called "Carlos Hatcock". They racked up a number of decorations during the VietNam war and their survivors retired with full honors.


EPILOG

There was an interesting aside to this story that the gunny would have liked to know. Some forty years after Johnson's death, an intern was doing research and found a dried up, freezer burned, blood specimen. He tested it and then retested it. The analysis showed high grade LSD; there were less impurities than in street acid. This simply wasn't possible! The death certificate stated that "Johnson, Steve" as a lush and a pot smoker as well. He didn't find any pot but PURE, clinical grade, LSD, was DEFINITELY in the blood of a 40 year dead man. This simply was too hard to believe.

The intern had played several practical jokes when he was a med student and wanted to live them down.

He "accidentally" threw out the old blood sample (which had dropped out of the filing system years before anyway) and aborted a possible threat against a number of old men and their families. They didn't need to know this anyway... TECHNICAL NOTE This story was written per Paul Dean Anderson's outline for writing a short-short story. The story was based on something I read once. In "The Boys From Boise" (or was it "The Boys of Boise), a description of a witch-hunt against gays in Boise, Idaho, in 1955, was described. It later turned out to be a power play on the part of the Boise City Council members against the Mayor. The "investigator" who was used against these men had worked for the Army rooting out "queers" at Army bases in Idaho (as I recall). The injustice of kicking out long service men who had fought in Korea and probably some who had also fought in WWII sticks with me. What a hell of a way to say "thanks for suffering through a shooting war. We found you and you are dead meat now!" Probably some of these men had been drafted...